5 Unmissable Things to Do in Monterey California This Year

Planning a trip to California? Find out the 5 unmissable things to do in Monterey but also the best restaurants, and where to stay. It’s a useful guide if you are planning a trip to the area.

My first trip to California was exactly to Monterey. I flew in from Columbia, MO to the Monterey Regional Airport and was immediately greeted by cool sunny weather and a fresh saltwater breeze.

The two friends I was meeting in California chose a delicious sushi restaurant, Yama Sushi, as the location for our first taste of Monterey.

Over the next few days, we spent time eating, shopping, and exploring the surrounding areas.

With an array of oceanside hiking trails, restaurants, and shopping choices, there are plenty of things to do in Monterey California. It’s the perfect vacation spot if you are looking for a relaxing and scenic location with plenty of adventure!

ALSO READ: The finest Airbnb in Monterey

Things to do in Monterey

1. Explore the beaches

We spent hours walking and hiking on the beach at Monterey Bay. Here, we enjoyed exploring the crystal clear shallows and the large boulders along the shore.

We were surprised to see a group of adorable chipmunks dodging through the rocks.

There are scenic trails leading off of Monterey Bay where people can hike, sightsee, and get exercise in the fresh air.

2. Shopping in Cannery Row

Many unique gift shops line Cannery Row including stores selling charms, shells, crystals, gemstones, apparel, etc. One shop that stuck out was the Monterey HD Apparel Shop, which featured Harley Davidson clothing and collectibles.

For each place, we visited we were greeted with great customer service and talkative shop owners and workers.

3. Whale watching

Monterey Bay Whale Watch offers whale-watching trips for those of us interested in the wild sea life in the area. I was not able to make it on one of these trips while I was in Monterey, but that is something I have on my list for the next trip!

4. Visit Point Lobos Natural Reserve

Once we were ready to venture away from Monterey, we visited the Point Lobos Natural Reserve. This massive and scenic hiking opportunity is located just 7 miles from Monterey, which equates to a 16-minute drive in California.

There are a variety of trails in Point Lobos. Depending on your mood and needs you can choose easier trails or you can choose hikes up the side of cliffs that look out over a breathtaking scene of the ocean. That’s where you can also find the Monterey Cypress trees.

Free Things To Do in Monterey

5. Oceanside walks

Oceanside walks and the beautiful trails are two free and fun activity options in Monterey. There are also restaurants such as Old Fisherman’s Wharf that offer free food samples.

6. walk around the historical center of Carmel by the sea

The pretty iconic town of Carmel by the sea is a short drive away where there are quite a few art galleries!

Also read – The most beautiful places to visit in California in December for solo female travelers

Where to Eat in Monterey

I think it is a fair statement to say that eating and trying new foods is often the highlight of any vacation, or at least it is for me.

If you’re a foodie like my friends and me, you’ll love the options offered in Monterey and the surrounding area. We deeply enjoy food, and I am lucky to have friends who love to explore different types of food as much as I do!

Lunch and Dinner in Monterey

Yama Sushi was a great way for us to start our vacation in Monterey, California! This restaurant has a perfect oceanside view and welcoming outdoor seating.

They had an attractive menu with a  wide selection of different types of sushi as well as non-sushi choices. I ordered the vegetable Gyoza as an appetizer, which came out crispy and steamy hot. The tangy dipping sauce for this appetizer was the best part, though!

For my entree, I ordered two different types of sushi: The California Dream and the Philadelphia Maki. The sushi came in bigger portions than I am used to here in Missouri, and the seafood was incredibly fresh. One of my friends ordered their Yama Lunch Entree: Chicken Teriyaki, which he reported to be delicious.

There’s a strip of restaurants and shops known as Cannery Row right next to the ocean that is perfect for walking, eating, and window shopping.

We’re big fans of bar food, and we found this location to be the perfect spot to spend our time!

Some noteworthy local favorites in this area, that we did not have a chance to visit, are The Cannery Row Brewing Company and The Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

And, just a few miles down the road in downtown Carmel, The Forge in the Forest is a fine dining experience with outdoor seating surrounded by a lovely garden.

I like to take chances with food, so I opted for the Three Beet Salad, which turned out to be amazing and not at all what I had guessed. One of my friends loved the Forge Burger, which came on a fancy buttered bun, and we all enjoyed their complimentary bread and butter before the entrees came.

Breakfast in Monterey

We didn’t get to make it to The Acme Coffee Roasting Co., but it is a local favorite for coffee and quick breakfast!

They brew many types of coffee, and they also sell the coffee beans for any coffee connoisseurs out there. Since this place is well-known in the area, they have a gift shop and website open for souvenirs’ orders.

Grab a Drink in Monterey:

After our first day in Monterey, we found ourselves wandering to the surrounding areas.

Carmel-by-the-sea is so close to Monterey that it feels like an extension to the oceanside town. After, or even before, dinner we would usually try a new spot to enjoy a drink.

Our two favorite spots were the Hogs Breath Inn and Yeast of Eden, now Alvarado Street Brewery and Bistro. Both locations also happen to be restaurants.

The Hogs Breath Inn had an indoor bar that opened up to a large patio with cozy burning firepits. January in Monterey and Carmel, California is the perfect place for a relaxing vacation with comfortably warm days and cool nights.

I remember my friend and I all ordered different drinks: beer, wine, and a mixed coffee liquor. We each enjoyed what had ordered!

The Yeast of Eden, brewery and restaurant, appears to have gone through a name change in the last year and is now known as Alvarado Street Brewery and Bistro. They still seem to offer the free beer tastings we were able to experience, though! This is perfect for those of us who are never sure what type of drink to order. Their menu has a cute section for beer called “Hop Forward” where they feature their current selection. And, they also make cocktails and offer an assortment of wines.

Where to stay in Monterey

Where you stay on vacation really depends on what you value. I’ve stayed in hotels, Bed and Breakfast Inns, and Airbnb rentals.

I will always personally recommend AirBnB rentals for quite a few reasons. In my experience, people who have properties listed on Airbnb take pride in creating a memorable and comfortable experience for their guests. Compared to hotels and Bed and Breakfast Inns, Airbnb locations are also usually more cost-effective.

My friends and I typically rent whole houses or apartments to ourselves, and we try to choose a spot that is a central location to the activities and restaurants we’re wanting to explore.

And even if you travel alone it’s totally a safe and unique experience.

If Airbnb is not your thing, there are quite a few nice hotels and Bed and Breakfast Inns in Monterey!

For example, the Monterey Plaza Hotel and Spa has great reviews and is a gorgeous building overlooking the sea. I’ve heard the Jabberwock Inn, “rated #1 on TripAdvisor, is a wonderful experience and the architecture of the building is a sight to see!

You can also choose to stay in the nearby Carmel-by-the-sea. Carmel Airbnb are spectacular cottages in town or by the beach, for a more memorable experience

FAQ About Monterey, California:

What is there to do in Monterey alone?

Many of the activities I listed above can be happily done alone. If I were to go to Monterey alone I would spend a lot of time on the beach and exploring the shore. I would also enjoy the hiking trails, visiting Point Lobos, visiting museums, and shopping.

Is Carmel or Monterey better?

In my experience, Monterey was the perfect place to stay as a sort of ‘homebase’! From there, you can explore the surrounding areas including Carmel by the Sea.

How far is Monterey from Carmel by the Sea?

The distance between these two areas is very short; they’re only 3.5-4 miles apart. Carmel almost feels like an extension of Monterey, and is definitely worth visiting!

What is special about Monterey Bay?

Monterey Bay has the charm of tradition and the ocean wrapped up into one location! Walking through Cannery Row is a wholesome experience that gives off a small-town-by-the-sea vibe.

How far is Monterey from LA?

Monterey is quite a distance from Los Angeles. It’s about a 320-mile drive which comes out to around 5 hours in the car.

We drove from Monterey to San Francisco, and that wasn’t a bad drive! We were only in the car for around two hours.

How do you get around Monterey?

There’s a variety of transportation methods in Monterey! We rented a car while we were there but, I do have to warn you, parking can be hard to find.

If you drive, I would recommend parking in a spot where you can easily walk to your destinations. There are also options for renting electric bikes and you can also take the trolley.

How many days do you need in Monterey CA?

I would recommend taking a 4-7 day trip to visit Monterey and the surrounding area.

We spent our first day in Monterey exploring the shore, eating as restaurants, and window shopping. From there, we spent the next few days exploring Carmel and hiking at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve (16 miles from Monterey).

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About the author

Amanda grew up in a small town in Missouri, which, she believes, shaped her view of the world. Rather than having that typical small-town stereotypical mindset, growing up around the same type of people gave her an undying curiosity for the unknown. She enjoys traveling to new places, meeting people from all over the world, and exploring new foods! She’s a high school English teacher and an online freelance writer with a lifestyle blog The Novice. When she’s not working, you can find her out getting coffee with friends or at home with her cat and dog dreaming of the next adventure.